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you know the horse sees you as the boss? When do you stop? In reality though, this is not the next problem. The real issue is that horses have no concept of a boss. Despite what is often written, when we look at the natural behavior of horses there is not one horse that is in charge of the others, with each subordinate doing what the one in charge dictates. Horses have a complex social structure, and different horses will take the lead at different times, all working together as part of a group. The construct of a boss scenario allows the human to assume complete control over a horse, with the incorrect premise that this is natural to equines. Secondly, there are many people that love doing things with their horse, but are anxious or scared about something in particular. It could be the horse spooks easily, panics if he sees a certain object, or gets too wound up when cantering. When put in an anxiety-causing situation we behave in a certain way, depending on our personality. Being told you cannot show fear means you change the way you respond in order to pretend you are not fearful. We know that horses have a fantastically enhanced sense of smell compared to humans. We also know that horses read subtleties of body language much better than humans. Regardless, then, of what you do to convince the horse you are not scared, he will already be smelling the result Using aversive training methods causes fear of that fear through your scent via anxiety, hindering chemical changes in the body. In addi- and learning and mutual understanding tion, it does not matter how much you try to convey confidence in your posture and movements, your body language will show many subtle signs that you are afraid.You will most likely not be aware of them but the horse will know simply from reading your body language. Now look at what we are told the horse will do if we are afraid: he will run rings round us. Horses do have a huge capacity for understanding and awareness, but I am quite sure that they do not decide that this is an opportunity to cause havoc. That is simply beyond their cognitive abilities. When we are scared, the emotional part of our brain has more of an influence than when we are relaxed. This results in us behaving differently. We give confusing signals, we do not act “normally” and we can be unpredictable. These are things that we are largely unaware of at the time, but we are doing anyway. The horse can easily see this, and that can lead to a breakdown in understanding between horse and human. We also know that the emotions of one being can cause another to feel the same way via a


process known as emotional contagion, so this can also influence behavior in some horses as the emotional mind becomes more involved. Finally, the concept of behaving “like a horse,” so the horse can understand his own language, is often used to justify physically punishing him with actions such as biting, pinching, or hitting, as that is what supposedly happens naturally. In this way, people may be led to believe that the physical altercations within a group of horses is natural behavior. It also relates to the idea that there is a boss. The problem here is, just as dominance theory in dogs is not based on how wolves actually live in the wild, neither is the “boss theory” based on how horses live in the wild. People who own horses may keep some - or all - their horses together in a contained area. This is a long way from how the animals live and form groups in the wild, so the entire situation is unnatural to the horse. Without intervention to help develop relationships between the horses, they may display behavior that is not natural but, rather, appropriate to the environment they are in. For example, they may attempt to protect themselves, leading to a potential incorrect understanding of the species. In reality, horses - and indeed most wild animals that live in groups - avoid physical conflict as it is not good for survival of the species. On top of all this, a human is not a horse. Any action by a human to mimic horse behavior is not going to be interpreted by the horse as a human taking on an equine persona, but as an action by a human, and a horse will view it from a different perspective than that of an action by another horse. Horses are very well aware that humans are not horses. To believe they can be fooled into thinking a human is speaking the language of the horse is naïve and incorrect. In spite of this, it is often asserted that this is how we must behave towards our horses as it is the only way to achieve results without ending up with a “bad” or “spoilt” horse. However, the truth is that interacting with horses on the above basis is very damaging physically and psychologically, and risks creating a dysfunctional situation and relationship. It hinders learning and mutual understanding, and does not allow trust and friendship to develop. The fallout from working with this perspective is huge. Aversive training methods cause anxiety, fear, avoidance and selfpreservation strategies in a horse, and put the emotional mind into a state of defensiveness. Aversive training can also lead to unpredictable and BARKS from the Guild/March 2017


BARKS from the Guild March 2017  
BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...